As he worked on the 1986 film Parting Glances, Madison actor Richard Ganoung had a classic on his hands. But no one knew it, least of all him. "As an actor, you can't think about it," he says. "You say your lines and do your thing."
But the film, screening Thursday in the Wisconsin Film Festival, has proven a landmark of gay cinema. A bittersweet comedy about gay New Yorkers at the height of the AIDS crisis, Parting Glances is the first film to be restored by the Outfest Legacy Project, the Los Angeles-based endeavor to preserve queer-themed films. The project combines the efforts of the gay film festival Outfest and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The project's next restoration is the 1978 documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives.
Parting Glances was written and directed by Bill Sherwood, who died of AIDS, at age 37, in 1990. It was his only feature film. "He wanted it to be an important film," says Ganoung, "but not a coming-out story. Just seeing these people as regular, normal folks."
In the film, Ganoung stars as Michael, a book editor who is seeing off his boyfriend (John Bolger), a United Nations bureaucrat beginning a stint abroad. Meanwhile, Michael looks after his ex-boyfriend Nick, a rock star dying of AIDS. Nick is played by Steve Buscemi, in an early role, and also appearing is Kathy Kinney, who later played nervy Mimi on The Drew Carey Show.
For the Thursday screening at 7 p.m. in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Ganoung will introduce Parting Glances and answer questions. A Lake Geneva native, UW-educated Ganoung is not the film's only Wisconsin connection. Kinney grew up in Stevens Point, and Ganoung's character even hails from the Badger State. "There's a couple of lines he has referring to it," says Ganoung. "People would say, 'You just threw that in, didn't you?' But no. Bill [Sherwood] couldn't believe I was from here."
Ganoung's Wisconsin Film Festival appearance is one of a series he has made in connection with the restored Parting Glances. These began last July, when he attended the Los Angeles premiere with Kinney and Buscemi. Ganoung also spoke at an October screening in the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, and later that month he went to the restored film's East Coast premiere at New York's Lincoln Center. "It was the first time the film had been shown in New York since it came out," says Ganoung. "It was like the film coming home."
A mainstay of local theater, Ganoung recently performed in Madison Repertory Theatre's production of The Diary of Anne Frank and, last year, gave a star turn as Atticus Finch in CTM Madison Family Theatre's To Kill a Mockingbird. More theater performances await him, and he has been cast in a gay-themed independent film that, if the financing comes through, will reunite him and Parting Glances costar Bolger.
Ganoung is pleased by the reception Parting Glances has received at recent screenings. "In L.A. and Seattle, and then New York, I was impressed to see people who'd seen it before, and had wonderful memories," he says. "And also a younger crowd who were like, 'Wow, I didn't even know about this!'"